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August 25, 2010

Squamish: The Plunge and Half Nelson

Filed under: 2010, British Columbia, MTB Travel — anotherheader @ 10:38 pm

Thermo in the midst of Half Nelson

Knobs’ last day meant that we would scour the trail map for heretofore-missed Squamish classic rides.  We didn’t need to look far.  The Powerhouse Plunge is always a must ride for any visit.

We approached The Plunge by shuttling to the top of the Diamondhead area.  The days’ group included Knobs, Dan, Shiloh, Thermo, and myself.

Shiloh descends off of Angry Midgets bridge over Half Nelson

The combination of P-Nut’s Wild Ride and 19th Hole took us down to the lower mountain trailhead area.  Up high the character of P-Nut’s is similar to Powersmart—root drops and rocky loose turns.  It had been about a week since there had been any rain in Squamish and much longer since there was a deep soaking rain.  The hot and dry conditions that had followed left the trails powdery dry.  We usually don’t complain about dry conditions in the North Shore.  When it’s wet, the roots add several dimensions of difficulty to a ride.  But at the top of P-Nut’s/19th Hole (and Powersmart), the desiccating conditions made the usually steep and loose trail particularly challenging.  There was some walking on this trail sequence, particularly the gnarly double diamond stint on 19th Hole.  At the bottom, when 19th reconnects with P-Nut’s, the flow returned.

A short climb up the hill from the bottom of P-Nut’s is the entrance to Angry Midget, Recycle, and a new trail, Half Nelson.  Starting the climb our plan was to drop Angry Midget, a newer flowing intermediate trail.  When we reached the Half Nelson trailhead, the route changed.  Half Nelson was just too intriguing to pass.  We had to try it.

A little body English keeps the Knobs on The Plunge's wood

During our bike shop visits Half Nelson had been highly recommended.  We were told that the trail was a fast and flowing New School-style trail.  Being machine built, Half Nelson’s tread is wider than the typical Squamish track.  On the map, it is shown as a double track.  Half Nelson hadn’t sounded like our kind of thing but when we rolled up to the trailhead, the trail’s appeal was immediate.  Either that or we just wanted to avoid the extra last little bit of hot climbing to get to the Angry Midget trailhead.  Besides, we figured, we could rejoin the lower portion of Angry Midget where the trail crossed Half Nelson.  We rolled onto Half Nelson not quite knowing what to expect.

Thermo looks forward on Half Nelson

On the trail, Half Nelson was better than advertised.  From the trailhead, the Sweco width trail moves down the hill, over well-timed humps and around perfectly banked turns.  A Tedward Shovelhands’ design, Half Nelson requires minimal pedaling or braking.  The humps can be doubled or rolled depending on the rider’s speed.  Up top, the tread is a little rough at the slower rider’s braking points and over rocks.  Further down, Half Nelson is a perfectly smooth and compacted Hot Wheels track.  The tacky and consolidated tread conditions were amazing for a newly constructed trail.  Half Nelson may not have been my type of trail, but it sure was fun.  Chances are that it won’t be my type of trail frequently in the future.

The most similar trail to Half Nelson that I can think of is B-Line at the Whistler Bike Park.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that B-Line is lift serviced.  Compared to B-Line, Half Nelson is a prettier and an arguably better-perfected trail.  The trail’s swath moves under the forest canopy across the numerous drainages on wide split wood bridges including some that have partial banking.  We learned that $ 50,000 of stimulus era Canadian Dollars was spent constructing this trail.  It seems like a bargain for all the work that went into creating such a masterpiece.

Scott tests Half Nelson banked turned for seating comfort

I guess we are not alone in our admiration for Half Nelson.  Later, when were in North Vancouver, we learned that the model for the Bobsled reconfiguration at Mt. Fromme is Half Nelson.  I’d expect to see more trails of this type in the future in many locals.

Apparently the word is out on Knobs

About two thirds of the way down Half Nelson the trail passes under a high split railed bridge complete with handrails.  The ride-able bridge, it turns out, is the intersection with Angry Midget.  Though it was hard to pull away from the lure of finishing Half Nelson, we stuck with the original plan, turned right, and headed to the bottom on the twisty and narrower old school style trail, Angry Midget.

(The mystery of how Half Nelson finished did not last long.  Later in the week, Scott, Thermo, and myself rolled Half Nelson top to bottom.  We can now assure you that Half Nelson has no loss of quality or character below the Angry Midget Bridge.)

Dan rolling on a low bridge

From the end of Angry Midget, we crossed over the road and took the partially finished Half Nelson-style reconfiguration of Another Man’s Gold to the stream crossing.  From the stream, the standard route took us up the hill to the start of the Powerhouse Plunge.

The Plunge has a distinctly different character from the rest of the Squamish trail options.  There are more rocks and fewer roots on the tread, particularly closer to the bottom.  And the rocks are somehow different, sharper and more grabbing.  It is hard to put into words, but The Plunge feels miles away from Squamish.  But it shouldn’t.  Squamish has the widest range of trail types that I’ve ever seen in a small area.  The Plunge fits into the mix just because it is different.  No matter what, The Plunge is a great run and another Squamish classic.

More pictures from day one and day two are posted on Picasa.

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